Measles is a viral illness that has all but been eradicated in the US thanks to an effective immunization program. Measles has become a news topic recently because of a recent outbreak linked to Disneyland in California. As of January 30th, there had been 102 cases reported this year in the US from this outbreak with no deaths. In Wisconsin there had been no cases. Measles remains a concern because it is still prevalent in other countries and is responsible for many deaths in other parts of the world.
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. The symptoms consist of fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, hacky cough, runny nose, red eyes, and a widespread reddish rash. It is easily spread though contact with respiratory secretions from the nose or mouth or through the air by a sneeze or cough. The time from exposure to illness, known as the incubation period, is about 10 days. Ninety percent of people living in a house with someone who has measles and is susceptible will become ill. The disease generally runs its course in 7-10 days in healthy people. However, statistics show that 1-2 people out of 1000 infected will die from complications. The deaths are more likely in people who have an immune disease, are malnourished, are on chemotherapy, or are pregnant.
In the year 2000 it was declared that Measles had been eradicated in the US. That did not mean that there were no cases but the number of cases had dropped to extremely low levels. The number of cases in the US per year had dropped from over 3 million with over 400 deaths in 1962 to less than 100 cases per year after 2000. Those recent cases were felt to be primarily in unvaccinated people who contracted the disease from exposure to someone from another country.
The vaccine for measles was first developed in 1963. Today the vaccine is advised to be given routinely at 12-15 months with a booster at 4-6 years old. Currently it is given in combination with mumps and rubella vaccines and is referred to as the MMR vaccine. It is considered highly effective with 93% immunity after the first dose and 97% immunity after the booster.
Those of us born before 1957 most likely had measles as a child and are considered immune. If you were born after 1957 you likely had an immunization. It is advised that you check your medical records to verify that the vaccine was given. The Wisconsin Immunization Registry can be accessed over the internet to check recent immunization records. If immunization records cannot be verified, a blood test can confirm immunity or a vaccination can be given. There is no harm in receiving a booster vaccine as an adult.
Some parents have not had children vaccinated for a number of reasons. This practice has made those children vulnerable to these sporadic outbreaks. The overall vaccination rate for children in the US is reported to be 92%. However, there are pockets of people who have not vaccinated children. These clusters could live in close proximity and those children could experience an outbreak. The vaccines are very effective and safe. The main reason I hear from parents to not vaccinate is the fear of autism. This is troubling since there is such good scientific evidence with outstanding results against diseases like measles, but there is no scientific evidence that vaccines are related to autism.
Fortunately measles is a relatively mild disease for otherwise healthy people, but it still kills tens of thousands of people worldwide. It still exists due to lack of vaccination. This is a disease that could be eliminated. Please consider vaccination for all children to stay healthy my friends.
By: P. Michael Shattuck, M.D. – Community Health Network Family Physician